The School Committee voted unanimously on Thursday night, March 18, to approve a plan that will return general education students in the youngest grades back to the classroom five days a week on April 12.
The vote was unanimous amongst the Committee, though many were disappointed as they felt their hands were forced by state Education Secretary Jeff Riley’s decision to require districts to re-open.
Nevertheless, after Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) celebrated one full year of remote learning on March 13, they also pivoted to adopt a plan that will have students who wish to return be able to return.
“On Friday, March 5, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met and voted to adopt a recommendation giving Commissioner Riley the authority to return Elementary students to full-time, in-person school on April 5, 2021 and April 28, 2021 for students in grades 5-8,” said Supt. Almi Abeyta. “Therefore, we are skipping hybrid learning and going straight to in-person learning. This means that students who return to in-person learning will be in school five days a week every day. Thus, I am pleased to announce our timeline for in-person learning.”
The plan also continues to offer a rigorous remote learning plan as well, known as the Online Learning Academy (OLA). Any parent who does not want to have their students return to the classroom can choose to remain online for the rest of the school term.
School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia said she was glad Chelsea was offering options to parents before the year ended.
“I’m excited we’re offering parent choice in this decision,” she said. “I want to emphasize that because some of our families aren’t comfortable sending their child or childent back to school buildings…While I’m excited we are finally opening our schools, I am equally excited about offering remote learning to students who are being successful in that model. This is a great first step for Chelsea because we are the hardest hit community by COVID and so this is a big step for us.”
School Committeeman Roberto Jimenez said the plan is the only option they have given the heavy hand of the state Education Commissioner.
“I support our current plan not because I think it’s the best option, but because it’s the only option DESE has left us with,” he said. “I’m outraged at the anti-democratic power grab the state Board of Education just passed, taking away our School Committee’s power to make decisions for our community in order to push Charlie Baker’s political propaganda. We’ve seen the risks of full reopening from other communities, including the Governor’s own town of Swampscott, which just had to shut down schools after a massive outbreak. DESE has made this whole process more difficult for us every step of the way, and I have no confidence in their ability to prioritize the well-being of our students. It’s shameful that this is where we are. Our students and staff deserve better. Chelsea deserves better.”
In the most recent surveys, about 57 percent of parents would like to send their children back to school in-person five days a week, while another 43 percent said they wanted to remain remote. That is an ideal number for a return, school officials said, as there isn’t space under COVID protocols to house large numbers of students in the buildings at a three-foot distance. However, if between 50 and 70 percent wish to return, that can be accommodated much easier.
The timeline for return is as follows:
• CPS students in Special Education Sub-Separate classes and the Chelsea Opportunity Academy students will return to full-time, in-person learning on Monday, April 5, 2021.
• Students in grades K-4 will return to in-person learning on Monday, April 12, 2021.
• Middle school students, grades 5- 8, will return to in-person learning on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
• English language learners at levels 1 and 2 in grades 9-12 will return to in-person learning on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
• Plans are in the works to increase in-person learning opportunities for high school students.
Garcia added that the Committee has made a decision that uniforms this year will be optional, and parents do not need to spend their last dollar to get uniforms for students.
“We have many families that lost their homes or their jobs during the pandemic,” she said. “I’ve had families wanting to spend their last dollar on uniforms. We don’t want that. Many of our families are still struggling.”